Penticton City Council has taken the first step towards expanding the legal powers of local bylaw officers. At Tuesday’s meeting, council unanimously voted for the Safe Public Spaces Bylaw in an effort to lighten the load on RCMP officers responding to minor, non-violent calls related to public nuisance.
The proposed bylaw would provide bylaw officers with more than just the authority to move a person along or threaten them with police intervention. Blake Laven, City Director of Developmental Services, noted that there is no set municipal rule pertaining to many of the matters they receive complaints about – such as people sleeping in doorways, panhandling at drive-throughs, and taking over public bathrooms.
Furthermore, if passed, local bylaw enforcement will be permitted to confiscate items deemed prohibited from certain spaces like parks, bus stops and shopping malls – including controlled substances and drug paraphernalia – should it be necessary for safety purposes. It should be noted that harm reduction workers and safe consumption sites are exempt from this rule in regards to drugs.
Council voted on a first reading of the motion Tuesday night; this action has sent it out for further review and engagement from provincial health officers as well as local citizens through public engagement sessions. Mayor Julius Bloomfield made clear his intentions behind supporting this decision: “This is not about being punitive and handing out fines” he said – but rather helping those who need it get access to services they may require. Bylaw Services Manager Tina Mercier added her team is knowledgeable about many of Penticton’s street-entrenched population, thus able to provide appropriate social services when someone expresses interest in obtaining aid. Final decisions regarding this motion will be up for debate later on in Springtime following public input is collected.